March 26, 2005

All the news that misfits 

NPR has a nice story on the manufacture of news via so-called 'video news releases.' Back in the day I worked as a PR guy cranking out written news releases on behalf of community organizations. Editors would read these and decide maybe there's a story there. If so it would be assigned to a reporter, who would do what reporters are supposed to do: research it and try to find the truth, or at least some semblance of balance. With video news releases, TV stations who have cut their news staff to the bone can simple run the package. No messy research or editing required. So what if the story comes prepackaged from a corporation or government agency? If it looks good on the air, it makes the cut. Fortunately the White House would never stoop to such deception, and if it did, our stellar local TV news operations would never air prepackaged political propaganda without providing balance and a disclaimer. Unless I'm wrong, which according to the New York Times I am. See "THE MESSAGE MACHINE: How the Government Makes News; Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged News" from the March 13th Sunday Times. It singles out a certain Champaign-Urbana network TV affiliate as an example of the many stations who simply plug-and-play these White House video news releases. Are we shocked yet?

March 24, 2005

More journalism awards for WILL-AM 

OK, this is just pure bragging but I believe it's justified. Here's a note from the hardest working man in public radio, WILL Radio station manager and program director Jay Pearce:
The results of the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association's 2004 Journalism Excellence Contest were released over the weekend. And I'm proud to announce that WILL-AM 580 won two awards in the Downstate Radio competition! * 2nd place in the Best Series/Documentary category for "Bridging the Achievement Gap" - by Tom Rogers and Jim Meadows. Their pieces were part of a larger overall initiative that included the efforts of many at WILL and our partner, The News-Gazette. I think it's fantastic that this project (which is a great example of the positive impact we are able to have on the community) has be recognized with this award. You can revisit it at: http://www.will.uiuc.edu/community/townhall/default.htm * 2nd place in the Best Editorial/Commentary category for Meg Minor's "Public Square" commentary about honoring veterans on Veterans Day. I think it's outstanding that the judges recognized the excellence of Meg's piece. I also think this emphasizes the value of "The Public Square" as a vehicle for members of the community to express their thoughts and ideas. You can hear Meg's commentary again on "The Public Square" archive page: http://will.uiuc.edu/community/publicsquare/archives.html Again, my congratulations to Tom, Jim, Meg and all who contributed to this award-winning work...and my sincere appreciation to everyone whose contributions make it possible for WILL Radio to have a positive effect on the lives of thousands of people in Illinois, Indiana and around the world on a daily basis! As President of the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association...I will be proud to hand these awards out to our folks at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention next month in Decatur. I'd also like to point out that of the 18 awards to be handed out...13 will go to public radio stations! An extremely good showing by our Illinois Public Radio members!

March 07, 2005

If Public TV doesn't do it, will George Will? 

First I must apologise for the last couple of weeks of bloglessness. I've been working on a bunch of streaming video projects, which I'll share with you soon under the dubious theory that they're of interest to WILLblog readers. But today we have George Will exhibiting his mean streak. I have been expecting someone from the conservative pundit establishment to call for the end of public broadcasting, given all the other trends in our recent political, ahem, discourse. But in attacking the relevance of public television, I didn't really expect someone like George Will to defend commercial television on the basis of high standards. Read for yourself: http://www.cincypost.com/2005/03/07/will030705.html Since we're all about balance here on WILLblog (even if it comes with a side order of twisted humor), here's a reply from PBS President Pat Mitchell:
Pat Mitchell’s Response to George Will Column – March 3, 2005 To the Editor: In a recent column in your pages, George Will once again cites a familiar litany of cable channels to recycle the argument that public television has been replicated and is no longer necessary. A random check of his own local listings on the very day his column appeared would quickly suggest there are serious holes in that theory. On the night that his column ran, Mr. Will could have tuned into his local PBS station for a special report on evolving technologies and treatments for cancer, the most serious health crisis in America. If he thought he could get more intelligent, in-depth programming on one of the cable channel options he listed, his choices would have included the following: On A&E, he could have watched “Presumed Dead,” the true story of a woman’s body hidden in a refrigerator. The Discovery Channel offered “Human Cannonballs,” revealing that the most common cause of death for human cannonballs is landing outside the net. Bravo would have given him “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” while The History Channel offered the history of “Engineering Disasters.” All of this was in addition to the networks’ offerings of “Extreme Makeover” and yet another version of “Survivor.” Beyond his premise, which is undermined by the actual comparison of programming between PBS and cable channels on any day or night, Mr. Will relies on several inaccuracies to argue against the federal funding that makes up about one-fifth of public television's budgets. The first is about the size of our audience- PBS' is larger than any cable channel on any night, making PBS the only broadcaster whose ratings are actually rising, not falling. Next, our children’s programs are the number one choice of parents anywhere, and are, most importantly, the only free children’s programs outside of the few that are still offered on Saturday mornings. And those programs are offered commercial free, with many targeting the underserved audience of younger children. While Mr. Will rightly notes that 62% of poor households have cable, that statistic begs the question of the remaining almost 40%. Many of those homes have children at a crucial developmental stage when educational, literacy-based television like PBS can make significant improvements in school readiness. Finally, Mr. Will dramatically implies that the public may no longer value PBS. A Roper poll conducted just last month tells us emphatically that they do. Americans cited PBS as the most trusted national institution in the country, and ranked public television as the second best value for their tax dollars, behind only military activities. Of course we don't always disagree with Mr. Will. A few years ago, he wrote of Ken Burns’ landmark documentary Civil War which appeared on PBS, “If better use has ever been made of television, I have not seen it.” Spend more time with us, George. There's more where that came from, every day of the week. Sincerely, Pat Mitchell

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